Is Canada's aid effective?

I’ll admit I feel pretty ignorant of what Canada, as a country, contributes toward international development. I’d heard about our government's supposed “commitment to maternal health” and knew that, although we had signed the UN’s Millennium Declaration, we weren’t doing as much as we’d promised to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals. I thought doing a little research on the topic might reduce my ignorance;I hope there's something in here that you also didn't know.

Canada has doubled its foreign aid since 2002, but is still far from meeting our government's Millennium Declaration commitment to contribute 0.7% of our GNI toward international development. The 2010 aid budget is projected as less than half that much and our government has decided to freeze foreign aid at the current level until 2015. Oxfam Canada predicts that by 2015 we will be spending only 0.28% of our GNI on aid. This is especially frustrating because international community had hoped to achieve the Millennium Development Goals that year.

Good Luck and Don’t have Sex.

I just finished reading “Good luck and Don’t have sex: The humble beginnings of Engineers Without Borders” and I thought I would do a review for those who haven’t had a chance it read it. It is a great read for those wanting to know about the short history of EWB. It goes right from the days when two recent UW graduates were working part time from an old warehouse in Kitchener, right up today where there is a strong National Office located in downtown Toronto. It is filled with interesting anecdotes and personal stories that make you feel as if you are there for all the good times, all the bad times, the stressful times and the times when you realize that everyone is there for a greater purpose.

What was this greater purpose exactly? What was EWB all about? The book chronicles this journey through use of the various mission statements EWB has gone through. The search for an appropriate mission statement began with “Engineers Without Borders helps people in developing countries use technology to improve their lives.” Chapters would develop solar power refrigeration systems, bicycle generators, and biogas generation. They thought this was engineering for development, but what the communities needed was engineers for development. EWB needed to address what the communities needed through an engineering mindset. This change in perspective lead to the longest lasting mission statement, “EWB promotes human development through access to technology.”

This new mission statement was great for the work EWB did around the world, but what about EWB’s growing portfolio in Canada? As EWB grew, we took on school outreach, public outreach and advocacy roles. One of the greatest mobilizations of EWB’s members was towards the Make Poverty History (MPH) campaign in 2005. MPH was a collaboration between numerous Canadian organizations, but EWB saw that they were taking too long to get moving, so EWB spearheaded the movement. In the first year of the campaign, MPH gathered 200,000 signatures, sent 50,000 postcards and was covered by 250 media stories. The MPH volunteers were made up by at least one third EWB volunteers. MPH volunteers mostly comprised of EWBers attended the Canadian venue of the Live 8 concerts and talked to tens of thousands of people, handing out “Hello, I can make poverty history” buttons and white make poverty history wristbands. This was a defining moment when EWB found out that we have a voice and we are catalysts for change.

Good luck and Don’t have sex is filled with stories about inspiring people, successful projects that built upon EWB’s reputation, and unsuccessful projects that build upon EWB’s strength. It is really inspiring to read about all the passionate people who want to change the world with EWB. It gives you a sense of what we are about and why we are working so hard for it. I highly recommend reading this book if you want to find out more about the deep passion that lies within every EWBer and how you can express it.

For anyone who would like to read “Good luck and Don’t have sex” I have one copy that anyone can borrow on a first come first serve basis. The first few chapters are also available here: I am working on finding the rest of the book online, I will post the link here when I find it.

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